Celtic Christianity

Ireland is a beautiful country – green, lush, rolling hills and beautiful farms aplenty. One of our primary purposes in coming to Ireland and England was to get a sense of the nature of the Christian church in the region for the past 1,500 years. That took us into the countryside to experience, through archaeological sites, the commitment of Christian monks more than a thousand years ago.
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Juniors Abroad: Ireland

On Saturday, April 30, we graduated our 124th class of undergraduate students. It was one of the best days of the year, with sunshine and moderate temperatures. Becky Ankeny, superintendent of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, inaugurated the beginning of our 125th anniversary with a graduation message centered on our founding and vision. It was a great day – and week, when you include the commencement events of our graduate students – of celebration. For me, it is one of the more exhausting times of the year, with constant events for more than a week! Usually I spend Saturday afternoon and evening recovering from the week. This year was unique: I have the opportunity to participate in one of our most important programs – Juniors Abroad – so Saturday was a day of preparation.
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Exemplifying ‘Be Known’

This past week I was visiting with a good friend of mine whose wife has a serious form of cancer. If you have cancer, all forms are serious and this one appears to be particularly virulent. In our conversation together he made a comment that, in a very real sense, forced me to stop all my thought processes and focus on the moment.

“This week, when I was sitting and talking with my wife, I thought the beautiful person I am talking with may not be here with me next year at this time,” he said. “I thought to myself, in what ways should my conversation be different because I recognize this as a reality?”

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Home Safe

As a parent, one of the things you always ask your children to do is to check in with you when they are away. I know there were times my own children misunderstood the reason for the request. In their minds, it was a parental attempt to “control” their time and activity. I suppose on some level that was true, but in reality caring parents take the task of creating a safe environment for their children very seriously. Ruth and I generally kept a midnight curfew when Jacob, Rebekah and Tara were in high school and, although we told them, I do not think they ever really understood that as long as they were out we were awake. We needed to know that they were safe and home.
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Regardless of Cultural Trends, Christ is at Center of Christmas

Our increasingly secular culture has a difficult time finding a way to recognize important Christian celebrations. This seems to be particularly true in the Northwest. When our daughter Rebekah was in high school, she sang in the Newberg High School choir. As part of its annual program, the choir sang in the well-recognized and beautiful Catholic sanctuary, The Grotto (pictured below). Although a deeply religious place, the students sang both secular and sacred songs and appeared to enjoy the connection between music and the celebration of the Christmas season. One did not have to be a Christian believer to enjoy the music and its connection to a clearly Christian holiday.
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Thoughts on Family Weekend

This past weekend was Family Weekend at George Fox University, and it is one of the most enjoyable times of the year for me. Parents reconnect and renew relationships with their students and I do my best to stay out of their way!
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Reflecting on Memorials

And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on glory’s side…and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live! – Chris Rice

My assistant of more than 15 years, Melissa Terry, experienced the death of her mother this past week. The memorial was on Monday, April 13. I have never liked attending funerals. It has nothing to do with the person who died, but they remind me too much of our limits as human beings. There is an end to this life. I am sure that statement seems obvious to you, but our entire culture pushes death to the side, ignores it and hopes science can find a process that will help us live just a little bit longer.
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Daring Greatly

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man or woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends herself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if she fails, at least she fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Sorbonne, Paris, April 1910 (pronouns changed to apply to women)
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Beyond the Courts and Playing Fields

It’s Thursday in Grand Rapids, Mich., and I have the privilege of spending some time with the undefeated George Fox University women’s basketball team. We are one of four teams who have hopes of a national championship in 2015. This year’s team represents the third time in six years that George Fox has appeared in the Final Four, with a championship and a second-place finish to their credit. I think most of us do not understand the significance of this achievement and may have come to take it for granted. There are more than 400 colleges and universities that play basketball in NCAA Division III. The final four teams represent the top 1 percent of all teams in the division. There is only one team that has made the Final Four three times in the past six years – George Fox. When you add to this the fact we play in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation, you begin to realize the excellent high level of play represented by our team. The Bruins are by all measures one of the very finest programs in the nation. To put this in our athletic vision terms, they have become “the team to beat.”
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Addressing the question of growth

Recently I received a letter from a student who expressed concern about the growth of our institution. I responded with a letter to him that I wish to share with the greater George Fox community …

Thank you for the letter of concern you dropped by my office this afternoon. It, of course, addresses your concern for the growth of the university. I very much appreciated your commitment to the Be Known promise and for your desire to make sure the George Fox University promise remains real even though more students are coming to the university. You asked, “How does the president understand growth at the university?”

Growth through the years  

First, the vision for the university is to be the “Christian university of choice in the Northwest known for exceptional life outcomes.” The more effective we are at delivering this promise, the more students will want to take advantage of the experience and education here. I think it is vitally important to recognize that the university, for the past 30 years or so, has always “grown.” In 1985, a total of about 550 students enrolled at the school and there were no graduate programs. Today, we have more than 3,700 students, including more than 2,200 at the undergraduate level. If you pick our size at any point in time over the past 25 years, the institution “grew” year to year. As it grew the institution became better and better, with improved facilities, a more prestigious academic reputation (11 national accreditations, whereas in 1995 we had one – music) and more scholarly faculty.

The institution today is not only bigger than it was 25 or 30 years ago, it is far better in many ways. At the same time, alumni we bring back from the late 1980s/early 1990s remember the close-knit community that was here during their time. It is true that the small community that existed then for those students no longer exists. It was probably true in 1986 that everyone knew everyone else; that is no longer possible. The point here is to recognize that each generation of students thinks about the experience they had when they came in as first-year students and resonates with how things were during that time. Our incoming classes for the past three years have essentially been about the same – just over 700. Thus, we have grown, but it has not been simply growth for growth’s sake. It has been very intentional with specific goals in mind.

Meeting a demand for professional programs

George Fox has been successful in attracting students because we make a promise that matters to parents and students and we also offer academic programs that are in demand – engineering, nursing, business, etc. Our competing Christian schools do not offer professional programs like these. In an age when students increasingly want to know how they are prepared for the future of work we offer programs that direct them and prepare them well. Currently, almost 1 in 3 students at George Fox major in one of these disciplines.

As we’ve added students on the undergraduate level we have added faculty, created new colleges, hired staff, and expanded and improved facilities. Our student-to-faculty ratio has not substantially changed as we have grown over the past four years. Thus, the evidence is that we have added faculty at the same time we have added students. We also are in the process of adding a new dorm and, depending on enrollment, perhaps another one after that. There will be a new dining hall in service in the fall of 2016, with the old dining hall being converted to academic space, with a primary focus on our College of Engineering. We have plans in place to accommodate further classroom expansion should it be needed for undergraduate programs, but all evidence suggests that won’t happen in the immediate future.

Trends in higher education

I do not know how much you know about the trends in higher education. There are fewer students who are graduating from Oregon high schools, and that trend will continue over the next few years. The primary experience of undergraduate colleges in the Northwest has been flat or a slight decline in enrollment. Simply put, we have drawn students to George Fox who would have gone to other institutions. (Keep in mind that the majority of undergraduate students go to college within 100 miles of their home.)

In your note, it would seem that your overriding assumption is that we can “control” who comes and who does not by creating some type of selection criteria that would exclude a group from coming to George Fox. How would one do this? Perhaps one might choose SAT scores so that only those who scored above 1150 would be considered for admission at George Fox. You could prioritize specific Christian experiences or denominations. The reality is that if we exclude some, there is a high probability that you or some of your friends would not be able to attend the university. Usually students who come to me with concerns about growth always believe that they would have been chosen to be part of the community.  Would you want to create a system that would exclude “you” and admit others?

In addition, the way undergraduate admissions works at most universities one does not know exactly how many students will attend until much later in the summer. There are only one or two institutions in the entire Northwest that actually have the ability both financially and with their brand to control their student enrollment. In our conference there are some very fine universities – Linfield, Willamette, Lewis & Clark, Pacific, PLU, Whitworth – and most, while they have goals, do not know exactly how many students they will get until the end of summer. Enrolling students in this day and age is quite different from the past.

Addressing our marketing initiatives

You made two comments about marketing, primarily wondering why we continue to get our name out in the market if we are finding enough students to fill our community. First, if you will examine our billboards and marketing efforts locally, you will find that almost all of that “marketing” is aimed at graduate programs. Keep in mind that we have a large graduate system that includes 16 masters and doctoral degrees. In order to fill those classrooms our name has to be out there as an excellent provider of graduate education. We do not advertize in traditional forms like billboards for our undergraduate majors and programs.

 Tasked with a message

Since its inception, Christianity has been calling people to repentance and faith. It has not been exclusive but inclusive; all are welcome under the blood of Jesus. Thus, we are tasked with carrying the message of Jesus to others. I have always thought that a church that is not “growing” in a real sense is actually preparing for its death. When you suggest that a growing university is not about building the Kingdom of God I suppose I would have to dissent from that view, depending on how one means it.

Ultimately, if we were only a school of 550 like we were in 1986, we would be impacting far fewer lives and few would know who we are. The students who come to George Fox now are the beneficiaries of the work of the past 25 years and lots of growth – growth in numbers, growth in quality, growth in mission. The impact and footprint of George Fox is much greater today than it ever has been, and it will be greater tomorrow. Thus, in my mind, growth is very much a part of a Kingdom vision – it is inclusive, embracing and personal.

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